Musings of a 21st Century Middle School Social Studies Teacher
For starters, I am very surprised by my thinking after thinking this one out...
Disclaimer #1: I guess it should be noted that my thinking is continually evolving, especially listening to my brilliant edu-friends hash it out all day! My thinking is always being shifted, so if there is any push back, please share!
Disclaimer #2: I'm not a cognitive scientist! These thoughts have come through conversation with other educators, personal experience, and reflection!
As usual, the #4ocf Voxer Group has really challenged and transformed my thinking on this topic. I presented the graphic (below) last evening half-joking, but curious about the response of others in regard to this seemingly antiquated styled assignment. "MEMORIZE THE PREAMBLE."
I can recall in high school memorizing the Gettysburg Address (Mostly memorizing... I think I got an 85%? Can you really assess memorization quantitatively in this fashion? Not a discussion for now!) and Annabel Lee by Poe. Memorization and recitation has always caused me great angst. In high school, I performed in one fall play and three musicals with two leads over the years. Each time... great anxiety over the memorization of lines. All this being said, the assignment posted below made me cringe and laugh (due to the "all-or-nothing" nature of it.
So... What's the verdict? To memorize? Or, not to memorize?
Again, presenting some ideas here that challenged my own thinking today as to why memorization of facts is not the evil which I had previously believed.
Start With Why
Trevor Bryan, Matt Larson, and Elizabeth Merce (and others) are constantly reminding myself and others to START WITH THE WHY. What's your why? What is your end goal? What's your purpose?
I'll admit, I'm not doing this continual metacognition and reflection, but am becoming better! Is the end goal rote memorization? Is your only goal to have them recite and regurgitate with little other thinking? If so, have at it!
Or, when it comes to something such as the Preamble, is the goal a deeper understanding of the principles that lay within? If so, you may want to reconsider the type of memorization your students are doing in the classroom.
Can deeper understanding happen through pure rote memorization? Maybe? For some? Usually no. Not for me, that's for sure. Students should be tearing apart the content or text. Analyzing. Reflecting. Creating. For example, the teacher could be asking... how are the principles found in the Preamble being applied today in government? Are they being applied?
Maybe students are memorizing in class, but more as a fruit of deeper learning. I have no problem with this!
Matt and Rachelle spoke this evening of memorization happening in conjunction with your passions and leisure activities. I mentioned earlier that I have some background in theater. Despite memorization being semi-nightmarish and nerve wracking for me, in the end, some of my best memories occurred on stage performing in Beauty and the Beast as Maurice (Bell's dad) or in Music Man. Memorization was not the end goal here, but rather the end goal was owning the story and sharing in this story line with others on stage and with the audience.
Similar experiences were mentioned by formed marching band member. Routines and music must be memorized in order to put on the performance. Again, the end goal is the experience and to entertain, and not necessarily the memorization in and of itself.
Having played baseball for many years, signs were a key part of the game. You needed to memorize the signs. Believe it or not, back in the day I was a base stealer (when I was a skinny kid)! Knowing and memorizing the third base coach's signs are key to any team's success!
Nevertheless, Matt helped me to understand that memorization occurs when you want to and when you need. Again, in these cases, memorization was not the end goal.
You need to have a little filing cabinet in your head!
Is memorization even necessary at this point? Yes! It is necessary that every human has some bank of knowledge in their brains! Whether it is your address, telephone number, favorite sports players, times tables, etc. There are most definitely times to memorize these facts. When it comes to our jobs and responsibilities. I sure hope my doctor has memorized his treatment plans or procedures! I hope administration and teachers have memorized most security protocols! Memorization is necessary. It happens. Maybe not through rote practice, but through experience. Nevertheless, memorization happens.
Also, as functioning contributing members of society, we need to (and do) develop some sort of schema! We need some degree of background knowledge when it comes to our every day tasks and responsibilities. What sort of society would we live in if nobody was informed on any issues? Policies? Basic scientific, economic, government-related principles? (For those who believe we are already there, this is a debate for another time. ;) ) What if we relied on Google to recall any basic fact? We would be mindless. Not good, especially in the age of AI! There needs to be, and there will be due to one's life experience, some degree of memorization.
That about wraps it up... Memorization is still necessary!
I only reflected on a few of the points that stuck out to me throughout today's conversation, but there are many other facets of this conversation. I didn't do the exchange justice, but I needed to get down my thoughts because I knew I would not remember otherwise.
I'm surprised to have come to this conclusion (at least at this time). Memorization is necessary. It happens through our human experience and helps us to live fuller and more rich lives by applying what we know. As with anything, it should, and usually does, have purpose. As educators, if ever assigning something such as that seen above, we need to reflect on the WHY. What is the end goal? What's your purpose?
Whew! It's been a while...
I've meant to check in recently! I didn't realize it had been so long. I actually forgot to reflect on my experience at Ed Camp AoP, where I met Rachel Murat in person, again! We were able to talk teaching over a yummy desert at Perkins. (#notsketch) What a privilege! Such a brilliant mind. The ability to collab with Rachel in person is something that I never would have imagined before teaching and in my first few years in the classroom. In the past couple years, my professional learning network (PLN) on Twitter and Voxer have filled me to the brim with excitement and a drive to always be the best I can be as an educator. This is my 5th year, 4th full year, teaching. I can look back at my first couple years teaching when collaboration meant bouncing ideas off the one or couple teachers who were generous enough to give of their time to share with the excited newbie in the building. Today, collaboration means sharing with hundreds, if not thousands some weeks, of teachers in a week via social media.
I have found a PL(F)amily!
A couple months ago, I joined an incredible community of teachers in a #4ocf Voxer Book Study. The 4 O'Clock Faculty is written by Rich Czyz, also a part of the study. The book revolutionizes the traditional paradigm of PD in the school setting and, for some, introduced PD on a personal level. This book study has come and gone, but this group of educators has transitioned into an incredible support network, and a family of sorts! I'm likely the baby in the group, but I am SO thankful to be amongst such brilliant minded educators always looking to push the limits. Every day, I look forward to hearing the conversation between these friends from afar. (Yes - always a conversation before I'm even awake at 6:30am EST. (Usually @emerced_learning or @CoachJonCraig!) In the past couple months, I have found some great friends in the field who have challenged me to think beyond the status quo and seek what is best for my students. The support is tremendous. I'll go as far as mentioning, when I was having a tough time at school, one of the group members side-voxed me to "pray over" me. I was almost brough to tears on my commute home. This book study, turned "think tank," has turned into an incredible PL(F)amily! I'm still not quite sure how to explain this group to my professional colleagues (book study group? voxer group/friends? I've tried a bunch!) in my building, but I know that they are a second family, of sorts.
I realize everything has its season. This incredible community will not stay the same forever; it will change, grow, evolve... My biggest takeaway is the need to surround myself with educators who will challenge me in my thinking and support me. They do say, afterall, that you are what you eat. You are the top five people you surround yourself with. I aspire to be more like these amazing experienced educators everday!
Every professional, whether educator or not, needs to find this network, or family.
We must be fed. We must be challenged. We must grow together. The learning does not stop here. So thankful for this group of amazing educators.
What a great day. Long day, but a great one. This was the first EdCamp I have attended where I knew I would be meeting some other educators from my PLN including Rachel Murat (@MrsMurat), Maureen Hayes (@mhayes611), Matt Larson (@mlarson_nj), and Rich Czyz (@RACzyz). After meeting these virtual friends and colleagues for the first time and others as well, I joked with my mom that perhaps this is what online dating is like! Ha!
As I did with my EdCampNJ post, I'll just walk through my sessions and share my takeaways!
Session 1: Your mindset your grading... who benefits?
This session was actually an extension of a conversation that I had been part of on the #4ocf Voxer group throughout most of this week regarding grades, assessment, and shifting the current paradigm.
While I'm not sure session went exactly as Matt had planned, I'd venture to point out that it was exactly the conversation that we were supposed to be having this morning. I did not necessarily leave with much new to consider, but I loved the continued reminder that learning happens throughout the process. The graphic below is inspired by Neel Desai.
This is a dialogue that needs to continuing. Grades are not the be all, end all. Mastery learning is the objective. Keep spreading the truth, guys!
Session 2: Breaking down the walls: teaching beyond the classroom (engagement/empowerment)
I was actually surprised by this session. I went in not thinking I would gather too much, but as expected just because I considered myself pretty well informed with Mystery Skype and similar ideas, but I was proven wrong. Jeanne Muzi and Micheal Dunlea presented their experiences in breaking down the walls of the classroom to expose students to the real world around them. First of all, we were reminded it is required for most of by our standards to facilitate these connections with students with students in other communities in our country and around the world. Therefore, we should probably be doing something about it, and technology only maes this easier and more dynamic! Some tools to check out in the future include: Microsoft for Education Skype Community, National Geographic Explorers in the classroom, and Epatico (a new and and improving "match-making" service between classrooms for collaborative purposes. Check it out for more info!)
Session 3: Innovator's Mindset. How do we get there?
This session, led by the charismatic and engaging Chris Duane, required some real critical thinking and collaboration. I was privileged to work with Paul O'Neill, who I had met minutes before at our half-time collaborative break. Our challenge was to create a pyramid out of the following words: How can we, as a collective, arrive at the final stage of "Innovation and Divergent Thinking?"
(Disclaimer: The requirements actually stated we could not have two elements at the bottom.)
Paul and I went back and forth. He is a very wise guy! We came to the conclusion that there could be multiple paths to the final destination: having a student-centered mindset or having effective leadership fostering a community of teachers aimed at approaching the goal. Whether it be a fruit of your own student-centered and personal growth mindset or the leadership of building, the climate and culture of the building/classroom can lend to empowering professional/personal development that allows for teachers to stretch their thinking and become those "divergent thinkers." I shouldn't speak for Paul because there was definitely much more to our conversation than what is said here. We both agreed that these words could not really be placed in a pyramid, but rather a "feeder system" (as Paul suggested) or as part of a cycle. You really cannot reach the final destination without the other elements of the process. They're all part of a co-dependent system.
Session 4: Hyperdocs and student voice
This session was led by Rachel Murat. She is so forward thinking and student-centered in her philosophy. So inspiring! She has actually helped me before over Twitter and I was so fortunate to meet her in person today! There were many practical pointers and some answers to my "nitty gritty" questions - sorry to the newbies!! Perhaps the most valuable takeaway from this session is the question that Rachel asks her students during her Hyperdocs lesson: "Where are your gaps in understanding?" I guess I have strayed from this question in the past out of fear that it could be insulting, but why beat around the bush? Make it clear to the students that you are focused on mastery. Such a practical use of the time I am already spending conferencing. So much to learn from Rachel! I have already asked her to rejoin Voxer so that we can collaborate on this platform as well in the future! Thanks for sharing your gifts and talents with us, Mrs. Murat!
Another great day! Many takeaways. So great to meet my virtual PLN in person! Looking forward to use these experiences in my classroom to continue fostering learning for my students.
This past week, I was so excited to record with Jim Sturtevant on his podcast, Hacking Engagement. Jim invited a few student and I to share some things I've been doing in my classroom. I've been listening to Jim's podcast since the spring and have been inspired in so many ways to better engage my students. I love that the podcast not only includes REAL teachers' stories but REAL STUDENTS' STORIES! So much of the content Jim puts out there is so applicable to my class as he is also a social studies teacher, albeit in high school. I am so inspired with Jim's continued dedication to be the best educator he can be! He seems to have every bit of passion he had on day one of his career! I aspire to be like this! Jim and I connected on Twitter this summer... I forget what the connection was, but we ended up talking about a prospective project I had in mind: a movie critique involving contemporary movies in the mainstream. I wasn't quite sure what the project would entail, but the cogs were turning in my mind.
I teach two 6th grade Geography classes and I was inspired to include this assignment in the Human Geography Chapter CYOA Menu.
So, what did the "Movie Critique Assignment" look like?
When finished, be sure to share your assignment with Mr. Soper AND on Seesaw.
Notes about the Assignment:
How did this go over with the students?
From the introduction of this project, students were hooked! Students were psyched with the possibility of watching a movie they loved as a part of a class assignment! For days, I was getting questions such as, "Mr. Soper, can I do this movie? Do you think this movie will have enough cultural elements? When can I get started?" Engagement. Win #1!
After students watched the movie at home, we worked on the critiques for three days in class. They watched movies such as Snow White (Germany), Moana (Pacific Islands), and Beauty in the Beast (France), to name only a few. The students took their notes at home and "went to town!" (Yes... they did this at home. Logistics make it near impossible to do this at school, so I sent this assignment home even though I have been transitioning more and more toward the #ditchhw end of the spectrum...)
Throughout the workshop periods, I conferenced with all my students regarding the CYOA assignment that they had chosen to work on. I noticed an uptick in excitement especially from those students who had chosen the "movie critique." These students were able to take a passion (favorite movie) and apply to what we were learning in the classroom. With this engagement, students did such a wonderful job in observing those cultural elements (language, architecture, clothing, etc.) evident in the movie. Many students looked at these popular movies from a completely new perspective and learned much in the process. WIN #2!
I look forward to using this assignment again, both in this exact context but also in my US History classes! I believe there was such high engagement with this project due to the degree of choice. Still, the assignment has the potential to be a major success when using with any mainstream film in the classroom! (Ideas floating around my head: Saving Private Ryan and Pearl Harbor, Hacksaw Ridge, to name a few...) We need to bring the world the students are already consuming into the world of our classrooms!
Can't wait to try to this again! Close to max engagement with this one!
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you to Matt Miller of Ditch that Textbook and all those who contributed to the Summit this year! Ditch Summit 2017 was my first time participating in the event! So glad I did! I missed the first year. While I was initially hesitant about the timing in the second half of December, I found it to be the perfect timing for this event at the beginning of winter and the heart of Christmas Break away from school. This event brings together educators from around the country and WORLD to be empowered as educators and better our students in our classrooms. While I was not as involved as I wanted to be on Twitter throughout, there was a vibrant community of participants out there lighting up the #ditchsummit hashtag throughout the event! There was also the Flipgrid component, I wish I could have participated in more throughout Ditch Summit. Perhaps, next year I will be better!
I wanted to use this space to reflect on some of my biggest takeaways from Ditch Summit! There was so much! I couldn't possibly reflect on each session! Seriously... So many nuggets of wisdom and experience shared by lead educators!
How to Make Learning a Game